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12 Essential Scientific Concepts

12 Essential Scientific Concepts

Professor Indre Viskontas, Ph.D.
University of San Francisco; San Francisco Conservatory of Music

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12 Essential Scientific Concepts

Course No. 1126
Professor Indre Viskontas, Ph.D.
University of San Francisco; San Francisco Conservatory of Music
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4.2 out of 5
53 Reviews
81% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 1126
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  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is thoroughly illustrated, featuring more than 500 visual elements to enhance your learning, including in-studio demonstrations, green-screen sequences, and illuminating 3-D graphics and animations.
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Course Overview

Cosmology. Neurology. Genetics. Chemistry. These are just a few of many fascinating branches of the scientific world ripe for exploration. But because science is such a vast arena of knowledge, people looking for a better grasp of its secrets often wonder where to begin. The answer: with the essentials.

Science’s most vital concepts and ideas—some of which have been around for centuries, others of which we’ve only uncovered in recent decades—make the perfect starting point for a deeper dive into regions of the scientific world you’ve long wanted to take a closer look at. Whether it’s evolution, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, or the nature of matter, these and other eye-opening concepts are all connected by the profound role they play in our everyday lives and in our larger understanding of the world.

By narrowing your approach to the expansiveness of science and drilling down to some of its essentials, you’ll

  • grasp the true nature, challenge, and excitement of scientific inquiry;
  • shed light on the scientific marvels of today and tomorrow, from nanotechnology to artificial intelligence;
  • develop a solid foundation of knowledge that will put more advanced areas of science within your reach; and
  • enhance your sense of wonder at the hidden marvels of everything from driving to work to creating new memories.

With 12 Essential Scientific Concepts, you can finally satisfy your desire for scientific inquiry in a way that makes this enormous field accessible, understandable, and undeniably captivating. Indre Viskontas, an award-winning cognitive neuroscientist affiliated with the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco, has a knack for making hard science clear to laypeople. She boils down the scientific world into 12 key concepts every educated person should know. Devoting two lectures to each concept to give you more time to engage with it, her 24-lecture course is your introduction to everything from the behavior of subatomic particles to the latest theories about the Big Bang. Concepts that may have eluded you in school, that you may not be familiar with, or that you simply never appreciated for their intricate beauty are now brought to vivid life in a way that sticks. Welcome to the world of science—reduced to its powerful essence.

Explore 12 of Science’s Bedrock Ideas

This course is your chance to get a single, accessible way to explore essential concepts from a broad range of scientific areas. Professor Viskontas offers you an engaging and accessible look at key building blocks of scientific knowledge.

  • The modular brain: With so many intricate, scattered parts and actions going into how human beings perceive the world, how is it that we experience reality as a seamless, coherent story? This is where the mind-boggling concept of modularity and coherence comes into play, which probes how our conscious experience emerges.
  • Brain plasticity: Scientists now understand that our brains act like plastic, in that they can be molded over time into many different shapes—a concept that’s caused a radical paradigm shift in the field of neuroscience. From breaking bad habits to learning new ideas, brain plasticity encompasses the tiniest modifications to a single brain cell to sweeping changes across neural circuits.
  • Quantum theory: How do we explain the behavior of particles smaller than an atom? The answer lies in the concepts of quantum mechanics, which operate within a unique set of mathematical rules and formulas different from those in classical physics. And, as you’ll learn, the ramifications of quantum theory, in everything from robots to supercomputers, are astounding.
  • Emergence: The quest to understand how complex systems work lies at the heart of the concept of emergence, where simple agents (following simple rules) together perform complex feats impossible for any individual unit to accomplish on its own. Where can you see emergence at work around you? It’s in everything from migrating flocks of birds to the layout of your neighborhood. But it may explain human consciousness as well.

You’ll also investigate other essential concepts: life, evolution, genetics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, the Big Bang, and the nature of matter. For each of them, Professor Viskontas gives you an expert’s introduction to their key ideas, the math and science behind them, the great minds responsible for uncovering them, and their relevant applications to (sometimes surprising) areas of life.

Learn Eye-Opening Scientific Facts

Every lecture of 12 Essential Scientific Concepts is filled with a sense of wonder and awe at the knowledge that scientific inquiry has brought us. Just as memorable as the concepts you explore are the eye-opening facts you’ll learn along the way.

  • Hurricanes transform heat into work much more efficiently than a car or jet does; so much so that a tropical cyclone can release heat energy at a rate of 10 to 15 watts per day—about 70 times the daily world energy consumption, or the equivalent of setting off a nuclear bomb every 20 minutes for the life of the storm.
  • The Big Bounce, a possible alternate theory for the origin of the universe, posits that before the Big Bang, there was no singularity but instead a tiny, compressed universe that preceded it. So instead of a beginning of everything, there could just be an infinite loop, of which we occupy a small part and during which the universe expands and contracts for eternity.
  • One possible explanation for the emergence of the theory of mind (the recognition that other people have thoughts, desires, and goals just as we do) lies in so-called “mirror neurons” that encourage babies to mimic other people’s actions. These specific neurons also offer neurologists a solid case study for how sentience and self-awareness might emerge from simple cells.

Spark Your Curiosity about Science

Regardless of how complex the concepts may appear at first, Professor Viskontas always takes care to present each one in a clear and concise way that will inform and delight you. She brings her remarkable teaching talent as well as an undeniable passion for sharing the wonders of science with an audience eager to learn.

An experienced observer of human behavior, Dr. Viskontas has published groundbreaking work on the neural basis of memory and creativity and has won numerous research awards. And as a professor of music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, she is pioneering the application of neuroscience to musical training and performance.

Accompanying you on this exploration are hundreds of informative visual elements to aid in your understanding, including green screen technology, helpful in-studio demonstrations, and explanatory 3-D graphics and animations. These captivating enhancements add an even greater level of depth and clarity to 12 Essential Scientific Concepts, giving you the opportunity to probe the invisible life of living cells, to tour the tiniest corners of the human brain, and even to visit the universe seconds after its birth.

Above all, Professor Viskontas has crafted this course to excite you for the countless possibilities ahead. “Science doesn’t reduce our imagination, it expands it,” she says. “Instead of quenching your curiosity, I hope I’ve sparked it—because there’s so much more to explore.”

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24 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Miracle of Life
    To truly understand what makes life special, you have to understand the fundamental makeup of life. In this first lecture, investigate the basic chemistry of living organisms, from the fundamental importance of water and carbon to the critical functions of proteins—the molecules that allow cells to survive, reproduce, and adapt. x
  • 2
    The Organization of Life
    Turn now to cells and the intricate organization of life. As you take an in-depth tour of eukaryotic cells (the kind your body is made of), you’ll learn how to make sense of mitochondria, lysosomes, and other cell parts. You’ll also see cellular organization at work in everything from making proteins to generating energy. x
  • 3
    Evolution—The Tireless Tinkerer
    Today, Charles Darwin’s landmark theory of evolution is biology’s fundamental organizing principle. So how did this revolutionary idea come about, and what were its roots? What scientific evidence proves the fundamental importance of evolution? What do antibiotics reveal about how the tireless tinkering of natural selection works in everyday life? x
  • 4
    Other Mechanisms of Evolution
    Explore some alternative mechanisms through which species can change, including genetic drift and gene flow, and the key role allele frequency plays in our understanding of evolution. You’ll also examine the Hardy-Weinberg principle, used by evolutionary scientists to determine whether a population is actually evolving, and which mechanisms are driving the evolution. x
  • 5
    DNA and Heritability
    Professor Viskontas takes you back to the birth of genetics through the pioneering work of Gregor Mendel. Then, she shows you how to understand DNA as a simple code read by cells to produce new cellular components. And finally, she breaks down the complexities of how genes express themselves: through the generation of proteins. x
  • 6
    Epigenetics, Mutations, and Gene Insertion
    It turns out that our genes aren’t fixed but change across our lifespans. In this fascinating lecture, investigate three major ways in which that happens: epigenetics, the modification of gene expression through environmental changes; mutations, which involve alterations in the genetic code; and gene insertion, in which viruses play a surprising role. x
  • 7
    The Illusion of Coherence—How We See
    The way you see is modular—but your consciousness is coherent. How is this possible? To answer this perplexing question, you’ll explore the biology of the eye and investigate the curious “binding problem” at the heart of the intersection between neural physiology, cognition, and the philosophy of consciousness. x
  • 8
    Acoustic Perception Deconstructed
    First, get a better understanding of how our ears are built, and how that construction affects the hearing process. Then, learn why hearing loss offers the perfect demonstration of just how complex this process is. Finally, consider the essential subjectivity of pitch and how hearing and sight interact with one another. x
  • 9
    Our Changing Brain
    Science has revealed that our brains actually change shape over time. But how? Where in the brain does this occur? How are memories created? What is the relationship between brain plasticity and learning (or unlearning) skills and habits? These are just four of the many questions you’ll encounter in this first lecture on neuroplasticity. x
  • 10
    Plasticity, Brain Training, and Beyond
    Delve deeper into the implications of neuroplasticity, and how we can harness its power to stave off the cognitive effects of aging, recover from disease, and master complex skills. The secrets lie in specific parts of the brain, like the hippocampus and specific proteins, like the brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. x
  • 11
    Magnetism and Its Magic
    Magnetism is undoubtedly a strange aspect of the scientific world. Here, Professor Viskontas reveals what we know (and have yet to uncover) about magnets and how they work. You’ll learn what makes a magnet magnetic, how spinning electrons create magnetic fields, the secrets of ferromagnetism, and much more. x
  • 12
    Electrical Forces, Fields, and Circuits
    To truly understand magnetism, you have to understand its cousin: electricity. First, get a primer on the basics of electricity. Then, explore the concept of electric potential (a combination of an object’s electric charge and its position to other charged objects) and find out how electric circuits actually work in the human body and beyond. x
  • 13
    Thermodynamics—Heat, Energy, and Work
    Explore the concept of power in the inanimate world—as predicted through the three fascinating laws of thermodynamics (which describe the relationship between heat and work). Along the way, you’ll understand how an ideal engine works and witness thermodynamics in action through the famous examples of steam and internal combustion engines. x
  • 14
    Metabolism—Energy in the Cell
    See how the laws of thermodynamics apply to metabolism, the energy exchanges between cells that keep us alive. Explore the inner workings of metabolism with detailed investigations of photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Learn how metabolism plays a role in today’s metabolic engineering, a process by which we harness single-celled organisms to create useful products. x
  • 15
    Fluid Mechanics—Pressure, Buoyancy, Flow
    Professor Viskontas offers you a clear explanation of how aerodynamics (or fluid mechanics) works. Central to this illuminating lecture: the opportunity to finally make sense of the fundamentals of this scientific concept, including buoyant force, the relationship between pressure and depth, Bernoulli’s equation, and the equation of continuity. x
  • 16
    Navigation and Propulsion in Fluids
    How has our greater scientific understanding of fluid mechanics given us the tools to move (and dominate) the land, sea, and air? How do we power the machines that allow us to do so? What’s the difference between form drag and skin friction? What’s actually happening when your plane hits turbulence? x
  • 17
    The Big Bang That Didn’t
    Travel back to the very start of time and navigate the murky—but undeniably eye-opening—science behind the Big Bang. As you evaluate this scientific theory by considering the evidence available, you’ll also ponder three ways the universe could end: the Big Crunch, the Big Freeze, and the Big Rip. x
  • 18
    The Four Forces of Nature
    Explore the four fundamental forces of nature, which scientists believe have guided the formation, expansion, and essence of our universe since it began. Not only will you learn the nuances of the strong force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force, and gravity—you’ll learn the practical implications this knowledge has given us. x
  • 19
    The Elements of Everything
    Break down the elements of the periodic table and discover how it explains why elements behave the way they do—and points the way to elements that we have yet to discover. Afterward, peek inside the atom and explore subatomic particles, including fermions and the long-elusive Higgs boson. x
  • 20
    Looks like a Particle, Acts like a Wave
    Is light a wave or a particle? To find the answer, comb through revolutionary ideas by Max Planck and Albert Einstein to encounter the wave-particle duality (a paradox best captured by the famous Heisenberg principle). Then, investigate some of the applications of this duality, specifically through the development and use of lasers. x
  • 21
    Quanta, Uncertainty, and a Cat
    Quantum mechanics is full of strange contradictions, including a cat that is simultaneously alive and dead. Professor Viskontas introduces you to the Copenhagen Interpretation—the most popular (though still not universally accepted) way to think about this field. You’ll also consider some of quantum mechanics’ remarkable applications, from nanoscience to quantum computing. x
  • 22
    String Theory, Membranes, and the Multiverse
    What exactly is string theory? What can M-theory and the behavior of black holes reveal about it? How does the theory of Loop Quantum Gravity explain how gravity works at the quantum level? Answers to all this and more are here in this lecture on a mind-bending scientific concept. x
  • 23
    Emergence—Simple Rules, Complex Systems
    The science of emergence explains how simple agents together perform complex feats that are impossible for individual agents to accomplish on their own. Consider what emergence can tell us about seemingly chaotic scenarios through several case studies from wildlife, including ant colonies and flocks of birds. x
  • 24
    Order out of Chaos
    Continue your look at the most interesting ideas in emergence. First, learn about artificial intelligence and social robotics. Then, ponder the rise of the theory of mind and human self-awareness. Finally, discover how modern cities are emergent structures—and how we play the role of the simple agents that make them function. x

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Your professor

Indre Viskontas

About Your Professor

Indre Viskontas, Ph.D.
University of San Francisco; San Francisco Conservatory of Music
Dr. Indre Viskontas is a Cognitive Neuroscience Affiliate with the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco, where she has studied the emergence of creativity in patients with dementia.Dr. Indre Viskontas is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of San Francisco and Professor of Sciences and Humanities at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she is pioneering the...
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Reviews

12 Essential Scientific Concepts is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 53.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Right up with the best courses I have taken It is nearly sixty years since I studied freshman level science classes and I found it fascinating to learn of the amazing advances and beautiful models and theories that have developed since those days.. As Indre hoped, her course did expand my sense of wonder and feed my imagination while sparking my curiosity to explore the topics she discussed by reading her recommendations. Her presentation was excellent, and the lectures flew by,. i felt I was in the room with her and enjoyed the clear diction and carefully selected illustrations and everyday examples she cited. As the course brochure suggested my enjoyment was greatly enhanced by using the course transcript and repeating the more technical lectures after all I am not as quick on the uptake as I once was! So thank you Professor Indre
Date published: 2016-04-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from An Okay Great Course The lecturer is quite knowledgeable and enthusiastic about what she is presenting, however for the most part the material is dry and dull. I have purchased numerous Great Courses and this is only the second one with which I have been displeased. In regards to a few lectures there is too much anatomical detail as if the professor is trying to fill space or time.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Recommend course, but important caveats This course did cover a wide array of scientific concepts, but I did not find it to be appropriate as an introduction to science. For that I would recommend Dr. Hazen's "Joy of Science." That is longer, but builds on and from the basics of each field. If your science background is limited, I would suggest getting a video version. I used an audio version, and I assume that the visuals would enhance understanding. If you have some broad scientific background, the audio version should be fine. I also strongly recommend reviewing the material in the course book. I did that after listening, but I think that doing it before listening would have been helpful. I generally try to read the course book before listening in science courses. I can see now that that would have been a very good idea with this course. One reason I make these recommendations is that it was difficult to see what the 12 concepts are. Even looking at the course book did not help very much with that. The first topic seems to be life with 2 lectures. The second topic appears to be evolution, which seems to get 4 lectures. There is some flow from topic to topic. She does discuss the linkages. There was, however, no point at which she clearly laid out those 12 concepts, even in the course overview. The Course Scope in the course book does seem to say what these are, but not very clearly. On the plus side, on my 2 basic criteria, the course does well. These criteria are: was it thought-provoking, and did it make me want to learn more on the topic(s). It definitely did those things very well. Another plus, the professor was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable across this broad range of topics. She also seems interesting in her own right. Not only is she an outstanding scientist, but she is also a well-regarded opera singer. On the negative, as several people have noted, she did seem to be reading.
Date published: 2015-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great place to begin scientific exploration I waffled about purchasing this course as I felt it might not go into each subject as deep as I would normally like. And, for me, that turned out to be the case. However, I did enjoy the course. This course is well-suited for someone who is starting a journey of scientific exploration. The course will probably also appeal to viewers who would like to learn how scientific concepts tie into biology. The professor admits that the course is meant to spark your curiosity in the topics presented. That goal was achieved and the result is very enjoyable.
Date published: 2015-11-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Top marks in all catagories Without a doubt this has been the most interesting, valuable and well done Great Course that I have completed so far. The lecturer is phenomenal. Her ability of explain complex concepts in a simple, straightforward way is unparalleled. This course brought together a wide range of scientific disciplines and concepts and showed how they are all interrelated in ways that I never thought of. While I thought I kept fairly up to date with scientific concepts, the last three topics were eye-opening (particle physic, string theory and emergence). I couldn't have asked for a more stimulating set of lectures that the ones that were so ability delivered in this course.
Date published: 2015-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 12 Essential Scientific Concepts I own several audio courses by The Great Courses, and this is one of the best. I have listened to it three times. The author covers every scientific concept imaginable, and uses clear, every-day analogies to make them understandable, yet is also able to get into the depth of each subject. She includes the most current scientific concepts, including the questions/controversies surrounding them. Being a musician, I also love the fact that she correlates some of the concepts and consequences to music:). The author also has a pleasant voice and a very approachable style. As one of the reviewers said, "I need more stars" for rating this course!!
Date published: 2015-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So Good I Need More Stars This course is one everybody should take. It exceeds the usual high marks because the professor not only explains the subjects clearly, but her second profession (an opera singer) enables her to enunciate her words and not speak through her nose as ever so many speech-untrained people do. Viskonta keeps the focus on science—which is proper because it is the subject of the course not to mention it is our only source of knowledge—and she does not stray into any form of mysticism, the supernatural or “junk science” such as the scientifically discredited creationism. A delight in itself. Professor Viskonta illustrated extraordinarily difficult topics with ease, and, for the first time, I understood the thinking which underlies String Theory as well as the basic concept. The only improvements I can see are minor. I think she should have defined “universe” (everything that exists) sooner than Lecture 22 and then use the word consistently. For example, there cannot be two universes if the universe is everything that exists. She struggles with the concept of time. Perhaps it might be helpful to define time as the measurement of motion. Just as the concept of “causality” applies to events and entities within the universe, but not to the universe as a whole, so the concept of “time” applies to events and entities within the universe, but not to the universe as a whole. The universe (existence) did not begin. Existence did not, at some point in time, spring into existence. Time is a measurement of motion; motion presupposes entities that move. If nothing existed, there would be no time. Which means, time is in the universe—the universe is not in time. Her easy manner and clear explanations will keep you mentally engaged on important scientific subjects for the entire series.
Date published: 2015-06-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Information With One Glaring Bias Based on the video format: I would consider Professor Viskontas a staunch Evolutionist. Evolution is one of the 12 Concepts but not Creationism. I expect a professor teaching general topics to suppress such biases unless they are either presenting a course on Evolution or one on Creation. I believe this is an improper scientific method for teaching. I expect this opinion shall generate many "thumbs down" but I am ok with that. I learned a lot from this series of lectures but I felt that it was tainted with a constant bias toward Evolution. Evolution is not an essential concept; it is a theory. Ms. Viskontas has evolution as a central concepts all throughout her lectures. Regarding her presentation style I found it very pleasant. She is photogenic, personable, and easy to listen to. I think that those who criticize her for reading off the teleprompter as being ridiculous. They should try to commit 12 hours of material on a huge amount of scientific subjects to memory. I did not find her presentation method distracting at all. Finally, with the aforementioned objections in mind, I find the amount of detail perfect. I had to rewind several times but that is the beauty of recorded material which makes such repetition possible. No one can be a specialist in all the fields of science covered in this series. I find her understanding of so many concepts amazing and refreshing. There are entire courses offered on all these subjects if one needs such a thing. Her presentation is straight-forward and direct. I found the information stimulating and thought-provoking. I feel that appropriate brevity was given on the subjects covered without feeling like the topics were skimmed over. I feel like there are too many people who rate themselves as necessary critics of the subjects covered in order to make themselves seem superior scientists. I need not discuss the subjects that are included in this lecture series because these are already enumerated on this website. I give this series a high recommendation as a stepping stone in a quest to understand any particular discipline of science.
Date published: 2015-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 12 Essential Scientific Concepts Professor Viskontaks amazes with her vast understanding of these diverse concepts, and conveyed in a way that most can really understand. She delivers her lectures with such energy and emotion that it's difficult to stop listening. This is a great course for those who like to continually expand their knowledge of the world in which we live. Delightful!
Date published: 2015-03-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2015-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent choices of scientific concepts reviewed I have been purchasing Great Courses since they were still the Teaching Company in the 1990s and now have watched at least 250 of them and they are all great. This one I enjoyed especially as I am a retired research physicist and love to keep abreast of not only what is going on in physics but the other sciences as well. This course gave a wonderful background in what is happening not just in my field but in other very interesting scientific fields. I now understand the latest theories and how the work. It is excellent background.
Date published: 2015-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding presentation, and enjoyable I enjoy learning new scientific information, especially since my education and career were in non-scientific areas. Dr. Viskontas makes even the most complex subjects understandable; and more importantly, enjoyable to this philomath. Her presentation is straight forward, though sometimes requiring the student to double up on focusing, and maybe even repeating a lesson, or parts thereof. She also co-hosts a weekly podcast, "Inquiring Minds", which I now follow since I appreciate her informed presentation so much.
Date published: 2015-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 12 Essential Scientific Concepts This was a very well presented and interesting course. The professor (indre Viscontas) seemed to be well versed in her subjects. She was attractive, spoke well and didn't make a lot of distracting hand gestures like many presenters.. I have been most favorably impressed with the ladies who have been chosen to present these courses. Lets have more feminine representation.
Date published: 2015-02-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disjointed! Almost perfectly in tune with its title, this series of 24 lectures given by Professor Indre Viskontas deals with a dozen scientific topics ranging from the « miracle of life » to thermodynamics, actually much more than strictly concepts in each case. Sadly, though links are made from one theme to the next, no overall structure is made explicit by Professor Viskontas and none emerges as the lectures are given. It seems the only purpose of the series is to underscore the vastness of scientific knowledge and to stimulate the listeners’ overall curiosity. More is expected from a university level course. Despite her enthusiasm, Professor Viskontas’ style of lecturing is quite dry as she strictly reads her text. Very often, traits of humour that would perhaps work in writing just fall flat. She also unjustifiably talks about her personal life, for instance discussing the San Francisco neighbourhood where she lives, mentioning her trip to the Mount Everest base camp with her husband and stating the fact she is seven months pregnant when taping the lectures. Who cares? Perhaps to add interest, anthropomorphisms abound and for example electrons are repeatedly said to « hate each other ». Some of the examples given are absurd, the most extreme being the building where an infinite number of tenants pay a rent equal to the temperature on the thermostat, the landlord being unable to give change (this to illustrate the theory of quanta). At other times, the phrasing is deficient for instance referring to « knowledge that would change our world as we know it ». Worse, even to a non-specialist, some of the information provided is simply wrong: • Heat does not « first » transfer from the liquid in a glass to the adjacent ice cube « before » heat is transferred from the environment to the liquid. All heat transfer is simultaneous, the first perceptible effect being perhaps the melting of the ice cube. • Mass is not the « resistance to movement » but to acceleration, a body continuing its motion in a straight line until it is affected by a force. It is mentioned in the course description that Professor Viskontas has been a guest on the Oprah Winfrey show. « Great Courses » customers are spoiled to expect a much higher intellectual level.
Date published: 2015-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Overview of the Natural Sciences Professor Viskontas (or the people at The Great Courses) have found a niche in the science courses with this course on 12 essential scientific concepts. To my knowledge, this is the only course that covers the entire spectrum of the natural sciences albeit in abbreviated fashion. I have taken the Biology course (72 lectures) as well as courses on astronomy, evolution and chemistry, and decided out of curiosity to take this course even though it goes over familiar ground from my previous courses. My curiosity was rewarded with 24 stimulating lectures over a diverse set of topics, and I acquired some fresh insights into some familiar areas. For someone who does not want to invest in multiple courses in biology, physics and astronomy, and only wants a basic introduction into the various disciplines of science, this is the course for you. Professor Viskontas has written her lectures extremely well, and makes an able and amiable presentation of them. The initial six lectures deal with biology with an emphasis on evolution and genetics, the next four deal with neuroscience followed by six lectures on classical physics, e.g., magnetism, thermodynamics. The following four lectures deal with cosmology and 20th century physics with the one lecture on chemistry (the periodic table of the elements) inserted among the lectures on the topics in physics. She concludes her course with lectures on emergence and chaos. While Professor Viskontas is a neuroscientist, her "essential concepts" lean heavily on topics in the physical sciences. A scientific "reductionist" would say that this is as it should be, since (they maintain) physics underlies chemistry, which in turn underlies biology, which underlies psychology and so on. I wonder how much variability we'd get in the selection of 12 "essential scientific concepts" if different scientists were making the selections. In any event, I enjoyed this course, and undoubtedly will be replaying selected lectures in the years to come.
Date published: 2014-11-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from 12 Essential Scientific Concepts Interesting, but too much detail and inadequate explanation of terms and basic concepts.
Date published: 2014-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Course for Content and Presentation I am trying to get my 15 year old daughter to listen to this course. I am convinced that it will make her even better at science. This woman's voice is a delight to listen to and the material is very logically presented. She makes very complex science transactions understandable. I only wished on one occasion that I had the video potion to clarify a concept.
Date published: 2014-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A most excellent Course I found this course excellent in presentation, content and overall delivery. For the student at the high school or beginning undergraduate level, this course is a wonderful overview of critical scientific elements; especially physiology. The instructor is very well versed in her field and does a smart presentation. As a university professor, I would strongly recommend this course...as a life long learner (and the course was a great review for me) I think this course is necessary, and one to keep on the shelf for frequent review.
Date published: 2014-10-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not so good The lecturer is obviously reading and STRESSES so may WORDS during her LECTURE that I find her difficult to follow. I believe she understands the material but is not skilled at teaching it.
Date published: 2014-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Point of Departure for Deeper Investigation One issue seems to come up over and over in various reviews. Is this course too advanced and difficult to approach or is too basic? I think it's very important to have some grasp of your scientific knowledge as well as your educational aspirations when approaching this course. It's important to remember that this course covers a very broad array of disciplines in just 24 lectures. There are entire series available on many of these topics. But I wouldn't say that these lectures skim the surface of anything either. In fact I was astounded about how much detailed information was packed into the lectures. There are two ways one can be scientifically literate. Many of us laypeople have a sort of general and broad understanding. We know the basic terminology and have some grasp of concepts. We think we know a thing or two about neuroscience or relativity or even string theory. But if asked to give a clear explanation of these things to others we begin to fall short and we certainly can't do the math. Then there are those, primarily professional scientists, who understand the numbers and can recite minute processes from memory. For these people the course is probably too basic. But if you fall somewhere lower on the spectrum I would be shocked if you didn't learn something. Are you new to science? I think this course is a great place to start, but that doesn't mean it's always going to be easy! You have to be serious about wanting to learn. After all these are some extremely complex concepts. Be prepared to get into the nuts and bolts of thermodynamics and electromagnetism. The wonderful thing here is that the information is presented very clearly, with useful analogies, and good graphics if you have the video version. Don't get it all right away? That's okay. You can review the course book and watch it again. The lectures will also prime your brain for more detailed single topic courses. You'll be able to grasp the concepts more clearly after these introductions. Dr. Viskontas did a fabulous job of compiling a course that is incredibly full of real information and she presents it well. Like on many of the courses I've purchased she takes a couple of lectures to warm up but is in her element by the third lecture. I think she's great at organizing the information for us as well as helping us to understand why it is relevant and she encourages us to think about the bigger implications. I strongly recommend this course to people who want to brush up on their high school and college science, those who want to become scientifically literate, as well as those who want to expose themselves to the latest thinking on these issues; I found the lectures on emergence particularly interesting. I think this course works really well in both video and audio formats. The video can be very helpful though.
Date published: 2014-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly Enjoyable This was definitely one of my favorite Great Courses thus far and Professor Viskontas is, without a doubt, the best presenter I have encountered. Her voice is simultaneously soothing and engaging, she is remarkably precise with her language without sounding like she is reading from a prompter, and she leaves no doubt that she is in complete control of her (wide-ranging) material. This course presents a variety of topics, as the title would suggest, but I thought Professor Viskontas did a nice job maintaining a coherent flow throughout the course, so it did not feel like we were lurching between disparate subjects. In fact, I was surprised how much the latter lectures built on the earlier ones. The professor elegantly weaves several overarching themes throughout that give the course a meaningful trajectory. Obviously, this course covers a vast amount of material in a short amount of time, but I still found it satisfying. The pace was quick but not overwhelming and I was impressed with the depth of these lectures. I haven't taken any science classes since high school (although I do love reading about science) and I did not have any trouble following the lectures. At the same time, I would expect someone with a more extensive scientific background would still enjoy the unique presentation of this course and how it combines distinct fields into a larger concept of Science with a capital "S." I was hesitant to purchase this course and I am so glad that I did. I look forward to future courses from Professor Viskontas (I hope there are many!).
Date published: 2014-08-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Very Interesting Lecture Set with Weakness I expected more from this course. The greatest misgiving is not having an expert in this field give the course. Professor Indre Viskontas is a pleasure to learn from but obviously it is not her expertise. The Teaching Company has numerous Big Gun professors such as Dr. Hazen, and Dr. Wysession who would have been a better fit for the course, For me, Professor Viskontas seemed to be just reading a script and was not a natural for the subject areas. As always I am more knowledgeable because of the Teaching Company course and would recommend it as an introductory survey course for non-science learners.
Date published: 2014-08-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too many topics, not an expert in most 1. The choice of “essential” concepts seems arbitrary & not what most would call “essential”. Some of the choice are diluted in discussion & different other topic included. 2. “essential” topics not covered or covered indirectly, include: Plate tectonics, the Scientific method, Germ theory of disease, the cell theory, Newton’s laws, waves, entropy, DNA, evolution, etc. 3. Some of the topics listed as ”essential” which are not generally thot of as “essential”: String theory, acoustic perception, navigation of birds, coherence, etc. 4. There are several errors: 1. Chapter 15 on Fluid mechanics: In the air there are several gasses – oxygen & Carbon !! Should be oxygen & Nitrogen 2. She says that elements with an odd number of electrons in the outer shell can be magnetized !! WRONG – iron has 2 electrons in the outer shell, as do other ferromagnetic elements. And many more. 5. Several strange comments: 1.Talking about the Big Bang – wondering about how it all came to be “since the beginning of civilization –“ Wrong – primitive man had long wondered about the start of everything. All Cultures have Creation myths, long before “civilizations” started about 10,000 years ago. 2. About the 4 forces – about the strong force – like in the atomic bomb - - at least mention & atomic energy, power plants. 3. “all forces interact with each other ??? 6. General thots: 1. No general concept of “forces” nor “fields” 2. Often says things like “the Mysterious force of gravity” In science there is no room for “mysterious, just unknown, or not yet clear, etc. 7. Over all I strongly prefer the presenter to be an expert in the field being presented. She skips around different fields where she is clearly not an expert. 8. It is more like a person reading a script for high school students, rather than the usual high standard of the Great Courses. I am returning the course
Date published: 2014-06-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Good Survery for Beginners If you have little exposure to basic scientific concepts in biology, genetics, and chemistry, as well as modern theories of physics such as quantum mechanics, this course is for you. If you've taken a suite of G.C. science offerings as I have, this course will merely cover some old ground. The best part of the course is the presenter, Indre Viskontas is enthusiastic, knowledgeable in her own field of neuroscience and, as others reviewers have noted, an excellent teleprompter reader. She is composed, articulate, and measured. Again, if the viewer has any scientific background (as I do) or has taken other G.C. science survey courses (as I have), save your money. But If you're not scientific literate and want an update on basic scientific concepts, this course is for you..
Date published: 2014-06-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2014-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic I loved this course. Dr. Viskontas presents her material in a clear, engaging way. I think this course is great for a variety of people because she explains concepts very well at a basic level and also touches on more advanced aspects of a subject. If there was technical language I didn't understand, I knew that we would soon be back in familiar territory and I never felt lost. Also, I love that she keeps the course extremely practical; I learned about cancer, memory games, epilepsy, fancy dog breeds, etc. Honestly, because this was billed as a sort of general intro course, I didn't pay much attention to the organization of its topics. I walked away from this course feeling like I had learned a lot without much effort. I would definitely watch any future courses she teaches.
Date published: 2014-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from VERY highly recommended! I've listened to a ton of courses and this is one my all-time favorites. Fascinating material presented by the extremely capable Dr. Viskontas. It gets you up to speed on basically every field of science. If you've ever wanted to better understand things like the Big Bang, string theory, DNA, physics, biology (and a bunch more), this is THE course for you. Viskontas is awesome at making things I’ve typically been confused by easy to understand. I seriously loved this course. I walked away from it feeling so much better informed about so many different things.
Date published: 2014-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding!! I have purchased many courses. This was the best one ever. She was an excellent prompter reader, a very important skill for any video presentation. I will be willing to purchase any future course she presents.
Date published: 2014-05-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from pretty good but uneven I enjoyed the course in part because I like her breathless enthusiasm. I like listening to her even though quite often it's a little too obvious that she is reading. She sounds a little amateurish, but so cute she keeps me listening. The depth of coverage varies to the extent that it's hard to guess who she thinks she's her audience is. On topics in her area of expertise, e.g., the brain, she goes into elaborate detail but on the basics of chemistry it seems too superficial. I think she should do a whole course on neuroscience, starting from the basics then bring us along to those topics that truly interest her. I'd buy that.
Date published: 2014-04-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2014-04-19
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